10 April, 2013

Challenge Accepted!!

An old roommate of mine (who is still a dear, sweet friend...for 14 years now) recently sent me a package in the mail.  I assumed it was a baby gift, but when I opened it I got the most exciting surprise I've been given in a long time.  A COOKING CHALLENGE!!  Omgosh!  I honestly haven't been this excited about cooking something in a LONG time!

She sent me these...

Yeah, Chocolate Pasta Noodles People!  The note enclosed in the package read:


You're probably wondering why I sent noodles for your baby gift.  It's not your baby shower gift.  I am issuing a challenge.  I've sent the same type of noodles out to 7 other people.  The challenge is to come up with a delicious dish.  It is your choice if you want to make an appetizer, entree or dessert.  Once you have made the meal and tried it, please post the recipe to both Gabi (my friend's sister) and my Facebook page.  Include any tips, pointers, and "maybe it would taste better with such and such" type of suggestions.  This all started with me seeing chocolate noodles at the farmers' market.  I thought I should send them to my sister.  Her first thought would be "Yum!".  The second would be "What do I do with them?".  We, my creative kitchen loving friends, are going to help her come up with those ideas!  Consider it my own version of the Food Network's series "Chopped", only we ALL win.  I'll completely understand it taking a while for you to get to this challenge as more pressing and important items are going on in your life right now (referring to me being pregnant and due in just 3 weeks).  Thanks in advance!


Ha!  Sure, the baby has turned and her head IS "pressing" at this point, but HOW in the world could I resist taking this HEAD on...and RIGHT now??  Yeah, I don't know either.

I looked at the list of ingredients on the noodles:  durham wheat, cocoa powder, cane sugar, etc...  I assumed most of the people getting them would make a dessert.  But there were TWO ingredients in there that made me steer my attention to an entree.  The cocoa powder and....cayenne pepper.  Can you say "mole"??  I sure can!  Enter in my personal version of "Rattlesnake Pasta", served with Lime Cilantro pan seared Chicken.

Mexican, Spanish and Portuguese style cooking have such a wide variety of flavors and are so inclusive you can make almost ANY ingredient into a dish with those flavors.  I couldn't help myself from going south of the border and fantasizing about all of the tastiness about to meet my mouth tonight!

Lime & Cilantro Chicken Marinade
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 c. oil (grapeseed, olive or whatever you have)
juice of half a lime
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped 

Toss everything EXCEPT the chicken into a food processor or Magic Bullet type of contraption.  Pulse or put it on lowest setting and let it go until the cilantro is completely broken down and the mixture resembles a pesto paste/sauce.

Pour directly into a gallon sized ziploc or a large dish with a lid.  Put your chicken breast in the bag, squeezing all of the extra air out so when you seal the bag you can easily coat/roll the chicken breasts around in the goop.

If you put it in a flat dish...roll the breasts in the mixture several times before covering.  Once you have coated the chicken well, stick it in the fridge for at LEAST 2 hours, but 4 hours is better.  I do mine ALL day.

When the time comes to cook these beauties (Or...you can choose to grill themIt would certainly add a depth of flavor to the chicken you couldn't get any other way.) They should first be baked in the oven for ultimate moistness.

**To keep it under 30 minutes for total cook time, in keeping with tradition on "Chopped", skip the baking and pan sear/grill them straight after marinading them.  If you skip baking them, pan sear on each side for 5-6 minutes OR until internal temperature registers 140-150 degrees. 

Pan Seared Chicken Breasts
4 T. of oil
2 T. of butter, melted OR oil
1 T. flour
1 tsp. cornstarch or potato starch
1/2 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 275 degrees

Line a baking dish with foil and give it a light brush with 2 T. oil or melted butter.  Poke the thickest part of each of your chicken breasts 5 or 6 times with a fork.  Place the breasts "top side" down in the baking dish.  Doing this will make them flatten out well, well enough so when you pan sear them, they are almost completely flat on both sides rather than just one.  Cover the pan with foil to lock in the moisture as it cooks.  Bake the chicken until the internal temperature in the THICKEST part of the breast registers 145-150 degrees.  This can take about 30-40 minutes.

When the chicken is finished, remove it from the oven and pat breasts dry on a paper towel lined plate.  Heat 2 T. oil in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  While pan is heating up, whisk together flour, starch and pepper then add in and whisk the melted butter/oil.  With a pastry brush, brush one side of chicken breats.  Place the BRUSHED SIDE DOWN in the pan and begin searing.  While that side is cooking, brush the exposed side with remaining mixture.  If you are grilling instead of pan searing, follow the same steps, placing brushed side down on grill first.  Then brush exposed side while bottom is cooking.  Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side or until it develops a loverly browned crust.  Then flip and cook the other side for 3-4 minutes as well.

When the chicken is finished, transfer it to a plate and allow it to rest at least 5 minutes before slicing for serving.  (Note:  Don't worry about the chicken drying out.  Baking it a a low temperature, enclosed and then searing it locks all the moisture inside.)  Save the pan, you'll be making your pasta sauce in this pan!!

Rattlesnake Pasta
1/4 c. flour
4 T. butter
3/4 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 c. shredded pepper jack cheese
8 oz. bag of Mexican cheese blend (whatever brand you choose)
1/4 c. of mild or medium good quality picante 
2 1/2-3 c. milk
1/2 of a green pepper, julienned
1/2 of a red pepper, julienned
8 oz. bag of linguini or fettucini type (flat) pasta
4 qts. boiling water
1 T. salt
fresh cilantro for garnish

In a large pot boil 4 qts of water with 1 T. of salt.  When it comes to a rolling boil, all at once add your noodles to the water.  Cook until al dente (usually about 7 minutes) or as instructed on the package.

In the same skillet you pan seared your chicken in, toss in the butter and let it melt.  Add in the garlic and saute for about 30 seconds.  Then, with a silicone coated whisk, stir in the flour and pepper to make a roux.

Let it bubble for a minute or two, until the flour no longer looks raw but seems to look yellow.  In 1/2 c. increments, stir in milk.  Completely incorporating each addition until all of the milk has been added.  After adding 2.5 cups of milk...asses the thickness.  Some people don't like super thick pasta sauces; some do.  If you prefer your sauces thinner, add the last half cup of milk before you incorporate the peppers and cheeses.

Whisk in your cheeses and stir until melted.  Add in the julienned peppers and cook for 5 minutes or until tender (NOT MUSHY!!).

Add in the picante at the very last minute, stir in well.  Immediately toss with the cooked pasta.

Serve on a plate with your chicken sliced and fanned out on top.  Garnish with a small bit of fresh chopped cilantro and serve.

This was one of the most complex flavored dishes I've endeavored in quite a while.  All of the confidence in the world can't fix "blech".  Luckily, this was a successful dish.  This recipe, of course, could be made with pasta that ISN'T chocolate flavored and it would be just as wonderful.  But the chocolate really brought the spice out in the sauce.  The Mister was surprised at how successful it was.  I was not.  I was just plain excited!  The cayenne made its presence known at immediately after swallowing.  It sort of "hung out" in the back of your mouth...reminding you that the noodles weren't just sweet...they were SPICY as well.  Not too spicy though, which was the key to this being a happy marriage in the mouth.  

I loved this challenge and would TOTALLY do something like this again in a heartbeat!  I am grateful that my dear friend included me in the fun...even if I am a HUGELY pregnant, swollen indivdual.  Pregnant folks gotta eat too!  Try this recipe out today, whether you have the chocolate-cayenne pasta or not!  You'll make it again and again.  I know I am going to!

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